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Josephine Powell collection

Identifier: ubl163

Scope and Contents

The Powell collection covers a broad geographical range, from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand. Architecture is the main focus. The Leiden Powell collection of prints is the third biggest collection in the world after the British Museum and the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge MS, U.S.A.).

Josephine Powell worked from a unique visual approach which makes her collection of great interest for the study of ethnography, architecture and black and white photography in the 1950s-1970s. All prints are gelatin silver prints. Her documentation of Afghan architectural and sculptural treasures in situ and in museum collections is of great value since most monuments and objects were destroyed between 1994 and 2001. Of exceptional importance are the prints of the colossal Buddhas at Bamiyan, which were blasted in 2001, and of the treasures kept in the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, which was hit by missiles in 1994, but refurbished in 2004. The Leiden photographic collection predominantly holds photographs taken in Central and South Asia.

This collection is part of the ubl159 Kern Institute Photography Collections .


  • Creation: 1956-1975

Conditions Governing Access

Copyrights: the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge Ms, U.S.A. where all Powell's negatives (34,000) are kept.

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

Josephine Powell (New York 15 May 1919 – Istanbul 19 January 2007) is known as a traveller, photographer and collector of textiles and ethnographic objects, predominantly in the Muslim world. Between 1952 and 1975 she carried out photographic fieldwork from Italy to North Africa and from Turkey to Indonesia. Powell was fascinated by the lifestyles of tribes, their material culture, and by architecture in its broadest possible sense. She focused on Turkey, where she lived since 1974, and Afghanistan. Her photographs have been published in more than two hundred books. Powell had a special working relation with the Netherlands, thanks to commissions from the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) in Amsterdam and the Wereldmuseum (World Museum) in Rotterdam, for whom she collected ethnographic objects.


1856 photographs

Language of Materials


Abstract in Dutch

Zwart-wit foto’s genomen door de Amerikaanse fotografe Josephine Powell (1919-2007), verzameld door het vroegere Instituut voor Zuid-Aziatische Archeologie (Amsterdam), in de periode 1959-1988. Het betreft foto’s van monumenten, sites, museumobjecten, ethnografica en landschappen genomen tussen 1956-1975 in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Gangesgebied, Kashmir, Orissa), Bangladesh, Nepal en Thailand. Hierbij domineren de architectuurfoto’s.

Abstract in English

Black and white photographs taken by the American photographer Josephine Powell (1919-2007), collected by the former Institute of South Asian Archaeology (Amsterdam) between 1959 and1988. Photographs depict monuments and sites, museum objects, ethnographical objects and landscapes taken between 1956-1975 in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, the Ganges area, Kashmir, Orissa), Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand. Architecture is the main topic.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

The photographs hold the inventory numbers: P-01185 to P-02717 and P-019861 to P-020185. Since the copyrights are with the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge Ms, U.S.A.), no photographs have been scanned.

Custodial History

The Collection Powell was acquired by the former Institute of South Asian Archaeology (Amsterdam) between 1959 and 1988. After the Institute of South Asian Archaeology closed down in 1988, the Collection Powell was removed to the Bibliotheek voor Aziatische Kunst en Archeologie (BAKA, Universiteit van Amsterdam), in 1990 to the Museum of the Tropics (Tropenmuseum), Amsterdam, and eventually to the Kern Institute, Leiden University, in 1995.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Collection Powell, part of the Kern Institute Photographic Collections, was presented to the Leiden University Library, department Special Collections, on April 27, 2010.


No future additions are to be expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

Since copyrights are Ms, U.S.A., no photographs have been scanned.

Separated Materials

Powell collected ethnographic objects for the Tropenmuseum (Amsterdam) and for the Wereldmuseum (Rotterdam).

Powell donated her collections of ethnographic objects and textiles and also photographs to the Anatolian Cultural Heritage Center in Istanbul.

The negatives of Powell’s photographs are kept at the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge Ms, U.S.A.


  • Finkel, A., Josephine Powell, an American Nomad, in: Cornucopia 30, vol. 5 (2003-2004), pp. 98-107.
  • Vos, Judith and Mohamed Saadouni (eds.), Josephine Powell (1919-2007) : traveller, photographer, collector in the Muslim world. Amsterdam 2008 [Bulletin Royal Tropical Institute : 384].


The material in this collection can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

The Powell collection was brought together at the Institute of South Asian Archaeology, Amsterdam (1959-1988) at the initiative of Johanna van Lohuizen-de Leeuw. All photographs were then mounted and provided with a description pasted on the reverse. After the institute was closed down, all collections were removed in 1988 to the Bibliotheek voor Aziatische Kunst en Archeologie (BAKA), Universiteit van Amsterdam, in 1990 to the Royal Tropical Institute Amsterdam and eventually to the Kern Institute in 1995.

Collection guide of the Josephine Powell collection (1956-1975)
Collectie Josephine Powell
Gerda Theuns-de Boer (Marie-Odette Scalliet, ed.), 2012
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857